Making the most of white water

The white water is unofficially reserved for you to practice catching and riding wave, after wave, after wave.

It is the safest, most forgiving playground that you will come across in your surfing ventures. Embrace it and don’t pressure yourself to advance beyond it. The white water offers countless hours of confidence building, learning, freedom and fun.

Beyond the white water is a realm of rules and surfing etiquette which, while learning you don’t really want to have to worry about. The more time you spend in the white water refining your skills, the better. When popping up to your feet is a well established reflex, you will feel relatively comfortable advancing out into the green waves and taking in the protocol will be easier as your focus will have shifted from establishing the basics.

The protocol to follow in the white water is to be aware of swimmers, kids on boogie boards and other surfers around you. Think about the radius your surfboard covers before your leash stops it. You need a lot of space. It’s always a good idea to find your own little spot on the beach somewhere. It is your job to stay out of the way of others, not the opposite.

In some conditions the white water will offer you a nice long ride into the beach. Often a lower tide will have the waves breaking further out meaning the white water will have longer to travel to the shore. These longer white water waves are the best to learn on. And if they are moving with some good speed, even better. Make sure you position yourself about 5 meters from the impact zone (where the wave breaks) to allow for the initial turbulence to pass.

Not all white water waves are the same. It is very hard to catch and stay on tiny, slow moving white water ripples. It’s much like trying to ride a bike without really moving. Speed is your friend, so be selective and go for the ones with some push.

The Module Catching White Water breaks down paddling into and catching white water waves, step by step.


Don’t feel embarrassed to be a learner in the white water, do the complete opposite and own it!

Accomplished surfers have all spent their time there and are super supportive towards learners. They will also appreciate you respecting and staying within your limits.

As you fall and get washed around, have a laugh, enjoy the turmoil and countless wipeouts and don’t take it too seriously. Every failed attempt to catch waves or stand up develops your body’s reflexes of what does and doesn’t work.

You will stand a lot while waiting for waves. This is naturally what most learners do and it makes sense. It is much easier to quickly whip your board around into position from standing, rather than from a paddling position. White water is usually pretty continuous, and without knowing how to duck dive, a common and good approach is to jump yourself and your board up over white water. Keeping your board perpendicular to the beach eliminates the chance of you and your board colliding.

How to keep your board safely next to you

When the conditions feel right and as you become more comfortable on your surfboard, you will find yourself doing more paddling rather than walking. Jumping off and on your board to get over white water is fine, but you can try a technique called gliding over a wave which means you stay on your board. Go to our module Getting Out the Back on a Longboard and we will show you how.

I sometimes wish that I could go back to those days. Looking back I was so focused on improving that I don’t think I really fully embraced my time in the white water. As you improve, you do become fussier. You wait for the best tide, or for the wind to turn. Learning days in the white water are all about taking whatever is on offer and not wishing for anything better.